A Diverse Universe

16 February 2015

Sudhamshu / Foter / CC BY-NC

Sudhamshu / Foter / CC BY-NC

In USA Today, Sean Gilmartin gives us Love in the Stacks: Making strides with diversity in romance novels. Gilmartin discusses searching for representations “that are more realistic representations of the real world;” representation readers can identify with, including representations of gay people, a wider range of cultural representations and more representations of people of colour in YA and romance. Gilmartin interviews Adrianne Byrd, JD Mason, Cheris Hodges, Beverly Jenkins, and Donna Hill, all romance authors who write more realistic representations of the real world. These authors give us people of colour in romance fiction.

The article is, as Marisa Tomei says in My Cousin Vinny, “Dead on balls accurate.” I particularly like this line, “We as authors and publishers are not being honest with our readers when we fail to include diversity in our fiction.”  I often wonder why it’s so difficult to have diversity in the media when life offers such a range of amazing and difference, of variety, which, you know, is the spice of life.

Gilmartin, who writes paranormal romance as Sean Thomas, believes as I do, that there is not just ONE archetype of romance reader or a handful of romance fiction protagonists. In real life, readers are a diverse bunch who are waiting and wiling to read books, particularly romance novels, that offer a more realistic representation of their lives. Diversity in fiction, television, and film means an accurate portrayal of ethnicity and culture, a greater representation of people of all colour,a greater representation of gay people, and, as I have in my romance novels Driving in Neutral, For Your Eyes Only, and A Basic Renovation, a greater representation of mature-aged people — that’s anyone over 40. Diversity means that the lead character, the protagonist, heroine and hero, whatever you want to call them, is the star of the show, not a supporting player or stereotype.

So how about spicing things up? How about we be honest in the media and give accurate and diverse representation of what it’s like to be human.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Thirty-one Days of Halloweenie Day 28: MJ Scott Wards off The Dark

driving smallDriving in Neutral is all about learning to face your fears. It takes a while for Emerson Maxwell and Olivia Regen to figure that out, but fear, if you will, is the key to their romance. Halloween, while focused on warding off fearful things, is also about facing fearful candy or cookies you’ve never seen before punkinbudand may be wary of trying, as with Cat Poop Cookie post from two days ago. How do you know you won’t like it if you don’t try it? It’s the idea that’s the scary thing about Cat Poop Cookies, not really the banal ingredients.

Ideas. Sometimes the idea of something is enough to spur other ideas, as my guest MJ Scott explains.

I’ve always liked the idea of Halloween but in reality, like most Aussies, it’s never been a big thing in my life. Oddly enough, the town where I lived when I was very young did Halloween. I think there was a big population of people of Scots descent in the area (Scottish dancing was also big) and that might explain it—it is, after all a Celtic festival So I have very vague memories of stumbling around someone’s house at night dressed in as a ghost with a bunch of other kids mjscott2_300_600wwithout much idea what was going on (partly because I would have been three or four). But no memories of actual trick or treating. The town I moved to after that was in a completely different part of the state and Halloween may as well not have existed.

These days, now that it’s becoming more popular here, I sometimes get kids knocking on my door (but must confess I’ve usually forgotten to buy chocolate and have to send them away) but otherwise it passes me by. Which is sad. As eating lots of candy and having fun sounds good to me!

To me, the idea of the actual origins of the festival in Samhain, a night where people prepared for the hard winter to come (which really doesn’t make sense at this time of year in Australia) and stayed by the fire warding off their fears is more interesting than the modern version. Though, as a writer, I have to say that it’s my job to open that front door and shove my characters out into the cold dark night away from the fire and the light and let them face those fears they’re trying so hard to ward off. Make ‘em earn that good harvest and happy ending.

TheDarkSide_300_600hIn my next book, The Dark Side, which is book 2 of an urban fantasy trilogy, my heroine, Ashley Keenan has to do just that. Just when she thinks she’s dealt with the worst fear she had, life turns around and make her face another trial by fire. Which is when the interesting stuff always happens. Definitely no treats until she handles all the stuff life is throwing her way!

M.J Scott is an unrepentant bookworm. Luckily she grew up in a family that fed her a properly varied diet of books and these days is surrounded by people who are understanding of her story addiction. When not wrestling one of her own stories to the ground, she can generally be found reading someone else’s. Her other distractions include yarn, cat butlering, dark chocolate and fabric. She also writes contemporary romance as Melanie Scott (www.melanie-scott.net). She lives in Melbourne, Australia. Her website is http://www.mjscott.net.

Get The Dark Side for

Kindle US
Nook
Kobo
iBooks

 

Thirty-one Days of Halloweenie Day 25: Bek Turner Talks Pyschos and Ironing

SandrabooksI like smartass. I write smartass. I write smartass novels like Driving in Neutral, For Your Eyes Only and A Basic Renovation. I write smart-mouthed, smartassed heroines like Olivia, Willa, and Lesley.OldAd-wowe-e

I like Halloween

I like smartasses and I like Bek Turner because she’s a smartass who likes Halloween and hates ironing.

Halloween was never on my radar. Only in the recent years, with all the spruiking from the shops (Buy this mask! Buy this costume! Buy these lollies!) , has it really bek-profile_2come to my attention. Not that I haven’t been very aware of the holiday. In fact, it’s often the theme of the movies I turn to when my well of inspiration has run dry. That, or when I have to do the ironing.

I love to write dark fantasy stories, and revisiting old horror classics provide great inspiration. Naturally, some of the best movies arChweene based around Halloween and of course, one of my favourites is the John Carpenter classic Halloween.
Grrr! Ironing!

Who doesn’t love a psycho in a mask movie? Though I stress I’m talking about the classic versions. I’m not that keen on the modern, gritty versions of the horror genre, where it seems like everyone ends up dying gruesomely. Not nice! Not nice! And if you’re looking for some recommendations of great spooky movies to watch this Halloween:

Trick R Treat: Four interwoven tales about one spooky Halloween night! Very Trtentertaining.Petsem

Pet Sematary: Stephen King! Zombie cats!(and zombie kids, Bek. Zombie kids saying “I played with Mommy, now I want to play with youuuu”. –Sandra)

The Exorcist: Terrifyingly brilliant! Watch through your exorfingers!

 

But rest assured, my books, Chaos Born and Chaos Bound, keep to horror killer rules. More or less. My heroine isn’t exactly a blushing virgin, but a cranky bitch with a heart of gold who fights the hordes of evil. If she can’t drink them under the table first.

chaos-born_cvrYou can find a copy of Chaos Born here

And Chaos Bound herebound

Rebekah lives in sunny Queensland, Australia. An avid writer since she could scrawl on her bedroom walls, she has progressed from rainbow unicorn tales to stories of dark fantasy with lashings of romance and a sprinkling of horror.

Her vices include in-depth critiques of B grade action and horror movies and buying stationery she doesn’t need.

 

 

Thirty-One Days of Halloweenie Day 2: Om Nom nom

multipbudHi.

I’m an author who loves Halloween, peanut butter, coffee, cookies, and writing about fear because one of the scariest things on earth is falling in love. I write about that fear in my novels, A Basic SandrabooksRenovation, For Your Eyes Only, and Driving in Neutral, all of which feature one or more of those delicious things. For instance, there’s a peanut butter in A Basic Renovation

a-basic-renovation_finalLesley reached back into the car. Plastic crinkled in her hand. ‘Can I have one?’
‘Can you have one what?’
‘One of the Fifth Avenue candy bars you’ve hidden under the socks and condoms on the bottom.’
‘Never you mind what’s in there. Just take it inside.’
Those clunking cowboy boots of hers stopped clunking just a few feet from the front door. Martino looked over his shoulder to see Lesley smirking. ‘I think I need something to guarantee my silence,’ she said.
‘Extortion is a crime, just ask Eilish’s nephew.’
‘I will. I’m going out with him tonight.’
‘Well, I’m not giving you any of my rubbers.’
‘I want chocolate and peanut butter, not sex and condoms.’
‘Ha! You want both, but you’re not getting any.’
‘You really think you will?’
He narrowed his eyes. ‘One. You can have one, merdinucchia.’

Numerous coffee and peanut butter scenes appear in For Your Eyes Only0913-eyes-only_final1

Her stomach growled on cue.
Peanut butter. It’s what’s for dinner.
She unscrewed the top from a jar of Jif. The instant she smeared a slice of whole-wheat bread with creamy, peanutty goodness, the phone rang again and the doorbell chimed a backwards, off-key dong-ding. Ignoring Isabel’s persistence, licking her fingers, she went to unlock the deadbolt, peanut butter-coated knife still in hand. She sneezed as she opened the door.
“Gesundheit.”
One more sneeze and Willa found herself gazing at a pizza box and John’s lopsided smirk. His nose was red from the cold.
“Hi,” he said, his eyes traveling from bare feet to peanut butter-covered knife. “I’m here about the shirt and the note you left at my door. Thank you. You know, you didn’t need to replace anything. It’s sweet, but I told you, clothes can be washed and…” his eyebrows rose, “…should I cue the Psycho music?”

driving smallDriving in Neutral is all about fear, yet the story contains coffee and peanut butter on Ritz crackers.

It took Emerson a second before he grasped what she meant. He hadn’t intended the baseball game comment to be a come-on, but subconsciously, in that very Freud kind of way, maybe it was. He was turning into a sleaze who winked and soon he’d be into wearing gold chains and exposing his chest hair like Barry Gibb on the album cover of Saturday Night Fever. Would he be able to stuff himself into a pair of Bee Gees-tight pants?
Quickly, before he imagined how his genitals would look forming a moose knuckle in white satin pants, he changed the subject. “Are you enjoying the work here?”
“It’s interesting.” She took a small plastic bag from the fridge.
“Is that a euphemism for it sucks?”
“No. If that were the case I would have said, it’s different. Want one?” She held out the bag.
“What is it?”
“Peanut butter and jelly on Ritz crackers.”
“Peanut butter and jelly? Peanut butter’s for kids. I’m an adult. I eat adult snacks.”
“So that box of Coco Puffs over there with your name and DO NOT EAT all over it in purple marker isn’t yours?”

Oh, all right. I often write about peanut butter. Does that scare you? Yesterday, I was given a scarily large jar of homemade peanut butter cookies. That scares me because I know I WILL EAT THEM ALL!

The scariest thing about today’s post is that it is about really about cookies — Halloween cookies and by Halloween cookies you know I mean PUMPKIN cookies.

Preheat oven to 350F/180C

1 ½ cups packed light brown sugar    1/2 cup butter softened

2 eggs                                              1/2 cup mashed pumpkin

2 ¾ cups flour                                   1/2 tsp saltpumpkincookie

2 tsp baking powder

1 tsp  cinnamon                       1/4 tsp  ginger

1/4 tsp  nutmeg                       1/8 tsp  allspice

1/8 tsp ground cloves

 

In large bowl, beat sugar, butter, eggs, pumpkin with electric mixer on medium speed.

Stir in flour, salt, baking powder and spices. Drop dough by tablespoon onto lightly greased cookie sheet. Bake 10 to 14 minutes or until edges are lightly browned.

Cool on racks, about 30 minutes. EAT.

Visiting Cafe Cala with Maggie Christensen CHAMPION OF WOMEN!

Maggie-Peregian-260x300I dropped by Maggie Christensen’s Cafe Cala to report on what condition my condition was in.  Maggie is:

An author of contemporary fiction. I love to write about mature women and examine how they face and overcome the family and the career issues they meet. I’ve chosen to write in this genre because this is what I love to read. I believe that older women and the events which impact their lives are often ignored.

Amen to that, Maggie. Amen to that.

 

 

Stop by for a chat!

 

When Good Characters Behave Badly

baddog3I’ve been waiting to do this post. I mean REALLY waiting. I wasn’t sure how long it would be before someone made mention of a lead character’s less-than-stellar behavior in Driving in Neutral once it was published.

It only took a week (Thank you, Dear Author!).

I’ve been waiting because this book has a history, and not just a 75 days long blog series on fear history. Yes, kids, I spent 75 days focused on phobias. As a lead-in to the release of Driving in Neutral, the romcom I call my ‘love story about claustrophobia,’ guests dropped by to talk about their fears. For 75 days.

Bear with me. I’ll get to the history bit soon.

The 75 Days Series should have highlighted that I like writing about fear. I like using fear as the key to hindering or unraveling a relationship, but I also like that a character eventually triumphs over fear, after all, I write romance where love triumphs over all. Love is a scary thing. Love can make a person feel vulnerable. Love can make a person act impulsively, and do dumb things. Love is primitive, emotional. People may be unable to filter their actions because love has jacked up their hormonal system. Everything is overloaded. So, let’s backtrack to the bit about vulnerability because like love, fear has a similar effect on a person. Fear is primitive, emotional. A person may be unable to filter their actions because fear has jacked up their hormonal system. In both cases, the amygdala, the centre of emotional behaviour, is doing all the work, while the Baddog2pre-fontal cortex, the part of the brain that regulates behavior, that is, the part of the brain that tells you what is right and what is wrong, is sort of on hold.

Fear can make people act in ways that seem out of character, can make a good person do something bad. When it comes to a character pushing the boundaries of behavior, what crosses the line between an acceptable response and a reprehensible response to fear? Is retribution ever justifiable, or understandable within a character’s behaviour? Or is revenge always just plain wrong? This is what I wanted to explore.

Lead characters in romance fiction are often held to a higher standard of behavior; they are perceived by many readers to be a ‘better’ form of a human being, one who frequently rises above petty or malicious behavior. As a result of this, when a romance hero or heroine acts in a primitive way, when impulsivity gets the better of them and these good people do bad things, some readers will protest and deem that character to be unlikable, un-heroic, and unworthy of baddog1being a romantic lead. Other readers don’t care.

I wasn’t sure which lead character would push the boundary for some readers, since both the hero and heroine in Driving in Neutral behave quite badly. Getting trapped in an elevator brings out the worst in claustrophobic Maxwell. He raves and verbally abuses Olivia, the woman trapped with him. His reaction is completely childish and base. He is overwhelmed by his fear, is unable to filter, and works from a primitive space. He’s all amygdala function.

When Olivia’s fear surfaces she, too, is in amygdala overdrive. So jacked up is her response to her fear she misbehaves. Terribly. There are 4 reasons for misbehaving: attention, power, inadequacy, revenge.

Olivia feels aggrieved, exposed, and acts impulsively, which, at that moment when it all spins out of control, is her best way of coping with being vulnerable. Her reaction is completely childish, and base. What she does to Emerson is cruel, and, just as he feels remorse for abusing her, she feels remorse for her behaviour…eventually, once her hormonal system is back at a normal operating level.baddog5

Now the history bit. A while back, I entered Driving in Neutral in a writing contest. A judge took issue with Emerson Maxwell’s verbal abuse of Olivia, particularly with name-calling. I was scolded with, “A hero would never call a heroine names.”  In case you’re wondering, those names were ‘wet rodent’ and ‘waterlogged hamster.’ Not exactly ear-scorching or profane, but I knew, based on that reaction, that Maxwell and my writing had crossed the line for that reader-judge.

What I want to know is this: Does the context for a character’s bad behaviour matter to you, or is bad behaviour always a no-go zone for romance leads, because romance heroes and heroines must maintain that ‘better’ form?

Fear can make a person act in ways that seem out of character, can make a good person do something bad. When it comes to a romance hero or heroine pushing the boundaries of behavior, what, to you, crosses the line between an acceptable response and a reprehensible behaviour? Is retribution ever justifiable, or understandable within the circumstances of a character’s behaviour? Or is name-calling and revenge always just plain wrong?

baddog6So what do I think, where do I stand on all this behaving badly stuff? My friend Swell, a longtime romance reader, sums up how I feel about lead characters behaving badly in a romance novel. Swell says that if the “reaction is realistic and a part of the character, and the reaction is used to complete the relationship between the hero and heroine, then I will feel that the response was appropriate for the character.” Amen sister.

 

Driving in Neutral, A Basic Renovation and For Your Eyes Only on sale now!

driving smalla-basic-renovation_final0913-eyes-only_final1

The Bite Lecture Series on Romance Fiction: Romance Heroines Are Not Sissies, So Man Up Part 2

 
Welcome back. We hope you enjoyed the brief, DeLorean-free trip to the past and apologise for today’s bumpy landing. To refresh your memory, we were discussing "Sins the Contemporary Romance Heroine Should Avoid" and those sins were:

Sleeping with someone other than the hero; Being a bitch; using foul language; and (my favourite) Having the cojones to be over 40.

Yep. You heard that right. It’s a taboo to be 45 and in love… in Contemporary romance.

I’m being specific about contemporary romance fiction for a reason. I’ve always loved interplay of real life with the fantasy part of falling in love. That’s why contemporary rom is what I most enjoy reading, it’s what I write, and what I’ve noticed is oddly age limited. It’s pretty freaky when you know the average age of a romance reader is 44.9 (see RWA www.rwa.org/cs/readership_stats) because despite that, a form of segregation creeps into Contemporary. After 40 a woman’s characterisation changes. She becomes what I’d like to suggest can be viewed as an additional incarnation of the ‘other‘ woman, where her age equates to a source of comedy, an unworthiness, or form of evil. ‘Other’ women have a place in romance fiction. I like a well-crafted female villain, but this isn’t about the purpose served by that sort of characterisation, or even about the way ‘other’ women are typically punished, although I can argue that the segregation I mentioned is a form of punishment.

Some of you have read my schtick before. You regular Biteyites know I research the phenomenon that moves a woman 40-plus out of contemporary romance fiction and ushers her, or for the sake of this entry, segregates her, into those genres that fall under the term of Women’s Fiction—the Hen, Matron, and Granny Lit type stuff where the story is driven by the female protagonist’s emotional growth. In contemporary romance, when a forty-plus woman makes an appearance it is often as a secondary character, sometimes with a subplot of her own (hello Susan Elizabeth Phillips!), but most of the time Ms. Forty is cast as a stereotype rather than as heroine.

Lately, there’s something I’ve noticed. A heroine’s age is treated differently across a few romance subgenres. In historical romance, most authors strive to be accurate with the context of their story’s place and time. Historical authors are aware that life spans were more limited in the Eighteenth Century than in the Twenty-first, which means middle age in Regency times (and this is a big fat guess here) was somewhere around, let’s say, 28-32. For the sake of historical accuracy, a 19 to 20-something old-maid heroine is not out of place in a Regency romance. In Paranormal and urban fantasy romance age exists in a magical world that has no bearing on a heroine’s part in the story if she’s a vampire, shape-shifting, alien witch-goddess. Indeed a woman can be all that she can be in these subgenres, but in contemporary romance it’s uncommon to find a woman of a certain age allowed that same agency.

Oooh. I threw you for a loop there, with that bit about ‘agency’ didn’t I? ‘Scuse me, my dissertation’s showing.

Think of all those forms of ‘other women’: the Stifler’s Mom cougar, evil stepmother, cranky old lady, mutton-dressed-as-lamb-whore, grandma, menopausal-wise-crackin’-best friend. None of these ladies are allowed to have centre stage. None of these women get to star in a book of their own.

OK, sometimes they do. The Age-Sinning Heroine is out there in Contemporarylandia. There are those who buck the trend. Julie, is in her sixties in Jeanne Ray’s Julie and Romeo. Nora Roberts has Roz in The Black Rose. Jennifer Crusie’s got Nell in Fast Women. But come on, we’re talking Nora and Jenny! They can do almost anything because they’re, you know, Roberts & Cruise!

Roberts & Crusie—sounds like a cop Buddy movie, dunnit? Maybe it should it be Crusie and Roberts…

Anyhow, I’m here to make a point, so let’s get back to the idea of the ‘other’ and look at one more Crusie offering. J.C. brought us Shar in Dogs and Goddesses. Shar’s 48 and, like Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander Claire, she appears in a world where magic is possible, where being 48 doesn’t matter, where age isn’t made an issue to the love story. This “other-worldliness” of paranormal fiction connotes an older woman can exist as a heroine, but only if she possesses some sort of extraordinariness that propels her further beyond the usual fantasy of romance, beyond the ordinary realities typically found in contemporary fiction. The heroines in paranormal romance are allowed to be much more subversive than their contemporary counterparts. They aren’t sissy girls. They can behave like ‘other women.’ They can sin. They can act like men. They can cuss. They can be bitchy. They can kill people. They can sleep with another man besides the hero. Oddly enough, if you leave out the vampires, changelings, magic, and telekinesis, when you get down to the actual fantasy of romance, the paranormal romance heroine is the most realistic warts-n-all representation of a real woman. And they aren’t punished for it.

What this says, and I’m talkin’ bottom line here, is that if you’re looking at the other side of forty, and you wanna be a real woman, you wanna be bad, you wanna get to fall in love, be confused by the trip, have wild chimp sex, a happily ever after, or happy for now, forget contemporary romance. Pick up a paranormal to find your ‘normal.’

Meanwhile, I’ll keep writing my contemporary romantic comedies with non-sissy 40+ women who man up and act like sinful paranormal heroines.